November 13, 2012

Alexandria Design Revisited

Last weekend Gerry and I were discussing the potential layout expansion, which is at this time a mostly hypothetical exercise. I mentioned this a few weeks ago on the blog and showed two possible designs. One focused on Alexandria and the other expanded the Aquia Landing portion of my current layout. Gerry is an advocate of the Alexandria expansion. If I heard him right he believes this design would add variety to the layout and provide an interesting switching operation.

It is true that Alexandria waterfront would provide the opportunity to build an urban scene. I am not convinced that the switching would be that interesting.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the most important and predominant job would be the switching the car float. But that is just the reverse of the operation at the main wharf at Aquia Landing.  There are one or two other industries that could be worked in Alexandria. But it really isn't more than one crew to handle.

Another issue that makes me uncomfortable is that I don't have any reference material describing how the USMRR actually worked the Alexandria waterfront. I suspect that it was a local switch job served mostly by the former O&A yard at Duke and Henry streets, with occasional interchange with the AL&H yard at Oronoco Street.

Recognizing that the car float is the main operational feature, I redesigned the Alexandria layout by shrinking it and focusing on the car ferry operation. In this plan there would be two other industries to switch- the quartermaster warehouse in the old foundry, which was the location of the former Alexandria Locomotive Works, and a team track in front of (or is that behind?) Pioneer Mills.

One cool aspect of the Alexandria the plan is that it uses the area under the stairs to make the Wilkes Street tunnel active as a staging track. How many waterfronts have a tunnel one block from the water? Convincing my wife about adding another hole in the wall is a different story.

I did some rearranging of the buildings to place the biggest structure in the far corner. But the plan does include an "urban canyon."

Gerry suggests I put this up to a vote to the blog readership in the spirit of recent election in the US for our next president. So what do you say? You don't have to be a US citizen to vote. Just look at the previous plans on the earlier post and pick which you like best. Try to describe why you prefer it. Feel free to introduce alternate ideas if you wish. It's a relatively open slate.


  1. Bernie,
    I vote for the expansion of the Burnside Wharf. It gives you a larger railroad with more operating interest. The Alexandria just gives you a shorter railroad plus a separate one-man switching layout.
    Don Ball

  2. Bernie,
    I think operationally the Burnside Wharf give you more operationally to portray the actual functioning of the road.

  3. The best plan for me would be the one with the larger rendition of Alexandria. But that's my personal preference for switching layouts. I'd also really like the car float operations, I think.

    But it's your layout and you'll have to decide what's better for you :-)

    I was trying to decide which plan feels more balanced, but that's only possible to decide if you know what you want the plan to do... and I don't.

  4. Bernie, I too vote for the extension of Burnside Wharf.... the Little as the bigger Alexandria layout are more "the layout on his own" idea, that is 2 layouts in the same room. John Pryke did that before in the Model Railroader when he build a layout extension to his bigger home layout what later became a switching layout on his own. Fine, but in your case the extension would addd to the wideness of your already great layout.

    As for for my 2 cents!

    PS The bigger Alexandria plan is good, if not great for a exhibition layout..... ;)

  5. The larger Alexandria plan gets my vote. The turntable may be a bit much though. I do think it adds a good amount of operational interest and the variety it adds to the layout with the inclusion of urban scenery can't be beat!

  6. Your revised plan gets my vote, Bernie. I agree that it adds the "2nd half" of the car feery operation. How often do layouts afford that encounter? Seems like a nice fit.

  7. I like the "crowded" feel of the Alexandria version. I'm a fan of "Urban" brick canyons. I've always found that areas of interest on any layout center around clutter. Your layout has some nice open areas and I enjoy a balance of that type of scenery with areas of deep detail. On my last layout I was unable to get to these areas of clutter but the location of the layout called for high lonesome and I was very satisfied with the attempt to accomplish that. Some of my friends felt like yawning. I understand. So when I look at your choices I feel the Burnside Warf tends to lead me too much toward that over balance of openness. You already have one car float area, which might be an argument against Alexandria, but I like waterfront operation as well and the versatility appeals to me. My vote it to go with the visual impact of the "crowding" as well as the business in switching I see in the Alexandria version. Plus I see many more hours of modeling fun in building all those structures and accompanying details; more fun for the "money".


  8. Considering an online discussion and vote on the final design for a possible future layout expansion was my suggestion, Bernie suggested I add my two cents. Well here goes…

    Now at the risk of sounding like an undecided voter (!)I must admit my initial embrace of an Alexandria LDE, in whatever size or shape it might eventually take, has waned somewhat. As readers of this blog know Bernie produces new ideas and finished layout design plans faster than most mortals can read them. I have trouble keeping up and sometimes I am there watching in real time as they are created.

    With respect to Alexandria, I do think having a place to “begin” car float operations would both balance and finish the layout in a very elegant way. This would also provide a chance for Bernie to show the world how quickly he could build a museum quality 19th century cityscape. The general census among bookies in as Las Vegas is “not very long” with the over/under being 8 months. Having said that, the idea of having an additional very large harbor scene is starting to grow on me. Should Bernie decide to expand with the Burnside Warf/Yuba Dam LDE it might be interesting to build a very large cargo vessel along the backdrop that would dwarf the rolling stock. This scene also might include a Passaic class Monitor in the foreground, which would be interesting. Right now the monitor seems bit too big for the other dockside area. Bernie has also told me the topography there was different than I had first imagined and it would be more closed off and less seascape than I first thought. One I envisioned as an oceanic cyclorama would have more of an industrial feel I think, which would be intriguing.

    A final layout configuration involving Burnside Warf would also balance the layout in a wonderful way but in manner very different than Alexandria. Burnside Warf would present to visitors and operators an interesting geographic journey, a path moving from the off loading of supplies at sea to the movement of those goods and men to front of the inland battle line. I suppose that I now envision the Burnside Warf LDE as recreating a Civil war photograph I use in class of a seemingly endless line of cannons and supplies piled up on a dock and waiting to move forward. While the photo I have in mind is of City Point, Bernie’s layout is in many ways a multi-dimensional narrative about the Civil War at a particular time and place and the logistical superiority of the Union forces is a key part of that story. Two to three feet of cannons and caissons along the dock would be a very thoughtful and powerful scene.

    To be fair the story of Union industrial capacity and logistical ingenuity could also be told with an Alexandria LDE, while at the same time presenting visitors with a very different scenic signature. However a Yuba Dam expansion could also be finished much more rapidly, which is also an important consideration. I sometime get the impression Bernie is thinking about another future layout and so adding a few years to complete Alexandria may not be best.

    If forced to vote (in an election I suggested) at the moment I would cast my lot with the Burnside Warf although considering Bernie work to date, Alexandria might put sections of John Allen’s Port to shame. However, I think it best to wait and see where we are next summer after the Roadshow debuts in General Sherman’s old stomping ground of Atlanta.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone.